I first noticed Kevin Coughlin in 1979, the year I arrived in America. On my favorite show, Dragnet, 22 year-old Kevin played a disturbed high school student who overdoses on French literature. Kevin struck me as an exceptionally bright and talented young man, and I assumed, he must have become a director, producer, or perhaps college professor. I wondered why he isn't a major star. He sure had the charisma for it. Those were the days before VCR when one couldn't freeze-frame the fast-running credits, so it wasn't until 1996 that I found out his name. I went to the library to research his life, and was stunned to read, that he died back in 1976 in a hit-and-run accident, aged 30. My grief was compounded by outrage when I found that the Los Angeles Times didn't even bother to report his accident, agony and death. The Van Nuys News was the ONLY paper that provided ANY news on the tragedy. As Kevin lay dying, some Southland papers saw fit to carry stories about a policeman shooting a dog, and Za Za's divorce. Kevin had in fact died twice. Unable to make a splash even with a sensational death, he was confined to oblivion, despite considerable popularity as a child actor in the fifties. Then and there I decided, that if I didn't do something for Kevin's memory, his traces on earth would be erased.
Information about Kevin Coughlin is very scant and hard to come by. People are tongue-tied. I had brief telephone conversations with some who knew him: fellow actors David Ladd (now a film executive), Michael McGreevey (screenwriter), Michael Greer, directors Bruce Kessler and Maury Dexter, agent Michelle Wallerstein. They were all polite, but less than enthusiastic. Dexter didn't even know Kevin had died! Greer described Kevin as "professional", Ladd as "competent", Wallesterstein as "a great kid", Kessler said Kevin and he were very good friends. I am of course grateful that they spoke to me at all, but I expected more. They seemed to distrust my lack of credentials. (I wanted to tell them: Aren't my efforts on Kevin's behalf sufficient?) Ladd was the only one who said I might try to reach him some other day to continue the conversation, and he touched me deeply, by describing my efforts as "very admirable". I have been postponing the second call, afraid to use it up. So, telling Kevin's story is an uphill battle. I urge everyone who cares to remember him, to call TV stations requesting that they show his programs. You can also call shows like Biography on A&E to suggest that they dedicate a whole week to forgotten actors like Kevin and Brandon de Wilde (whose life parallels his). I have provided the most complete list of Kevin Coughlin's credits available anywhere. But it is not quite complete. I still have no clue about Kevin's work in European cinema, which the Van Nuys News mentions. My dream is to talk one of Kevin's friends into writing a memoir about him. I have a title for it "My Friend Barry" (Kevin is listed in the phone book as Barry Coughlin) or "Kevin of Hollywood". A personal memoir is probably the only book that would work for Kevin. A movie would not be a bad idea either. Although Kevin doesn't have "name-recognition", his life is fascinating, a life dedicated to pursuing the elusive dream of stardom. Kevin's life epitomizes the heroism of dreaming big dreams. By honoring his memory, he honor all those who like him, tried and failed. Any additional information you may have about Kevin, his life and credits would be highly appreciated.
KEVIN COUGHLIN: THE FACTS
John Kevin Barry Coughlin was born in Inwood, New York on December 12, 1945, and lived in Rye, NY. His mother was Marguerite O'Brien, father John Coughlin. His sister Joan would become a nun with the Sacred Heart of Mary.
Kevin was a very precious kid. By age 7 he had his Broadway debut in "The Frogs of Spring". The next year he was in Hollywood, playing "T.J." in the very successful (now forgotten!) TV comedy "Mama". In 1956 he appeared in his first film, the powerful anti-censorship drama "Storm Center", a much underrated film starring Bette Davis. Kevin plays a bookworm who commits arson after the hysterical small-town folks accuse librarian Davis of being a communist. According to Charles Higham's Bette Davis biography, Kevin's mother used to pinch him to make him cry on cue, because Davis was upset, that the boy wouldn't cry. Kevin did two other films as a child: The critically acclaimed "The Defiant Ones" (1958) with Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier and the delightful comedy "Happy Anniversary"(1959) with Patty Duke, David Niven and Mitzy Gaynor.
Inexplicably, Kevin's career seems to have fizzled in the early sixties. There are hardly any credits. His fourth film was "Duel at Diablo" (1966), a violent and pointless Western, which I didn't like (I tend to dislike violent films). Kevin plays a soldier called Norton, but his bit part has been cut out of the video version. At about this time Kevin was majoring in theater at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Fresh out of college, he resumed his film career. In 1968 he did no less than three films: "Maryjane" (about Marijuana), "Wild in the Streets" (about youth culture gone haywire), and "The Young Runaways" with beginner Richard Dreyfuss. This was Kevin's very first starring role, and he is quite appealing and effective. He also wrote the title song, which shows amazing talent for a guy who had no musical education. Director Arthur Dreifuss and producer Sam Katzman were so impressed with Kevin, that they asked him to stay after the shooting to help with the editing. I read about this in an MGM publicity brochure. Kevin seems to have impressed a lot of people, which makes his oblivion all the more puzzling.
In the late sixties, Kevin Coughlin was on a roll. In 1969 he starred in "The Gay Deceivers" a hilarious and intelligent comedy about two straight guys trying to evade the draft by pretending to be gay. Sadly, this box-office hit has been disparaged as tasteless, and can only be found in a few video stores like "Video West" in West and North Hollywood. I find it to be quite a masterpiece of pop art, and still vastly ahead of its time. It is not just funny, but immensely relevant. Michael Greer steals the show, but Kevin is quite good too. He deserves a lot of credit for putting his career on the line by taking on such a controversial subject. I wonder what price he had to pay for it.
THE MYSTERY YEARS
And now come the mystery years. I am still trying to find out why Kevin's Hollywood film career ended suddenly after he starred in his most successful film. Things just don't add up. He was just 23 years-old and better than ever. Was he blacklisted? Why did the Los Angeles Times fail to report his accident and death? Only the Van Nuys News reported it. There I read, that Kevin worked in European cinema in the seventies. But nowhere could I find any information about it. I don't even know which country. Kevin's very last screen appearance was a pathetic bit part on "Gunsmoke" ("Hard Labor" 1975). His great humanity comes through beautifully, but he is filthy and unrecognizable. All indications are, that he was at the end of his career as an actor. The very fact that he would accept such an unworthy role, shows desperation, even financial hardship. Yet his last address was 19222 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. When the tide is low, you can walk to the site of his beach house, now a vacant lot, from Topanga beach (it takes about 20 minutes). Kevin never owned real estate. He was a humble renter.
At the time of his death Kevin was married to Marcia Kandell, aged 29. I have been unable to locate her. She should be a treasure-trove of information. I found a 1973 divorce certificate. Kevin Coughlin filed for divorce from Pamela Elaine Coughlin. She didn't appear in court. Such a drastic action on the part of a 26 year-old is puzzling, and suggests, that Kevin must have had a temper.
At 1:30 a.m. on January 10, 1976 Kevin and wife Marcia were returning from a party or diner with a friend. The car was parked near the corner of Ventura and Whitsett. Kevin was cleaning the windshield, Marcia was in the car. Kevin was hit by a speeding car, hurled 63 feet in the air, and landed in a parking lot with broken hip and legs. He was transported by helicopter to USC Medical Center in East Los Angeles, where he lingered on for ten days, probably without regaining consciousness. On January 19 he succumbed to complications from bronchopneumonia. He was laid to rest in Gate Of Heaven Cemetery, in Hawthorne, New York. I have never been to New York. One day I hope to have the time and money to visit his grave. You can find it at: SECTION 44, PLOT 604, GRAVE 10.
A memorial was held at Marymount High School. The irresponsible driver, a 50 year-old man was tried in Van Nuys. I have yet to research the trial details. The hospital records and police report are no longer available, as they are routinely destroyed 8 years after the fact.
I can imagine what a blow Kevin's death must have been to his loved ones and fans. Almost a quarter century after the tragedy, I wipe away tears. It's been very tough on me, and I don't cry easily. The minute I learned about it, I knew the grief would never go away. The loss of such a human being confronts us with the mysteries of the universe.
Shortly before learning about Kevin's death I wrote in my diary "I sure wish I had a friend like him". Kevin would still be in his prime today, aged 52. I think he would have made it as a director, producer or talk-show host. Perhaps his acting career would have recovered. He was full of life, ideas, enthusiasm, courage, compassion, joy, altruism. And I like to think of him as still being there. He is there for everyone who cares to draw inspiration from his shining example. Kevin had that capacity for making you like yourself and others. To him life was a big, fascinating adventure to be relished fully. He seemed to like everyone. Beneath a somewhat stern demeanor, and a touch of shyness, there was a very gentle heart. At one time he produced and hosted a short-lived talk-show, "The Age of Aquarius".
WHERE YOU CAN FIND STILLS
I could find only two places in Los Angeles (the movie capital of the world!) that had Kevin Coughlin stills: "Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee" and the "Margaret Herrick" library on Olympic and La Cienaga in Los Angeles. Prices range from $6 to $30 per still, but at the library you can get good photocopies for just $0.25.
Too many of Kevin's roles were bit parts. On "The Fugitive" he was little more than an extra, and his name didn't appear in the credits. I haven't seen most of his TV appearances. This is a crying shame, as the shows were quite good. I haven't seen the film "Maryjane" despite its exceedingly relevant subject. I talked to Dick Gautier who wrote the script. He disparages it as "a hodge-podge" that he quickly assembled on 10 days notice. But I tend not to trust other people's evaluations. I find myself disagreeing with people all the time as to what constitutes a great movie. I dislike big, slick, pretentious movies, and favor small, modest ones. I think Maryjane is a good movie. But even if it isn't, we deserve to see it. At the very least, it has historic value. Yet it has virtually been banned. No one has any idea where to find it. Not even the most esoteric video store carries it. Here are Kevin's TV and screen roles that show his talents most favorably:
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY (1959) 13 year-old Kevin is very likable as David Niven's son. It is most poignant to reflect that Niven will outlive him.
THE YOUNG RUNAWAYS (1968) a pleasant, unpretentious film about troubled youth. Kevin is the lead and he also wrote the wonderful title song.
THE GAY DECEIVERS (1969) Kevin is a straight guy pretending to be gay, to avoid being drafted.
THE GUN (1970) a "Gunsmoke" episode. Kevin plays a kid who accidentally shoots a famous gunfighter and has to live up to his sudden reputation.
If you can add to this biography, please write to me